SPRINGFIELD -The Illinois Emergency Management Agency on Thursday assured state lawmakers that nuclear power plants in the state are safe and well-prepared for the unthinkable.|
Japan's nuclear crisis, which followed the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, has caused global concerns which have washed onto U.S. shores.
But IEMA Director Jonathon Monken said Illinois has the "most comprehensive state-of-the-art nuclear safety program in the nation" during testimony Thursday before the Senate Energy Committee hearing.
Susan Landahl, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Exelon Nuclear, stressed the company's safe operations. Exelon owns Illinois' six nuclear power plants, including the Quad Cities Nuclear Generating Station in Cordova.
"It's understandable that many Americans are asking if the events in Japan impact us, whether they should be concerned about our own nuclear plants, and I'm here to assure you that not only do I have full confidence that the Illinois nuclear plants are safe (but) as well as our other plants in the United States," said Landahl to the panel of senators.
Monken said Illinois' six nuclear plants are monitored around-the-clock for any abnormal level of radiation.
"We have a second redundant system of trained professional state nuclear reactor operators that are stationed in each of the six nuclear power stations," Monken said. "These resident inspectors report on their assigned plant each day, conducting independent inspections of critical safety equipment."
Monken also said the state is prepared for an emergency response because IEMA constantly conducts drills with other response agencies, and all six plants have a unique response plan.
"As I mentioned previously, data from the remote monitoring system is continuously transmitted to the REAC (Radiological Emergency Assessment Center)," Monken said. "During an emergency, professional IEMA reactor analysts and health physicists in REAC analyze information and develop protective action recommendation for the public."
State Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, was concerned if the nuclear plants' infrastructure have been updated to keep them onpar with other states and countries.Monken assured the panel that the plants are continually undergoing updates.
"It's an on-going process as far as the equipment that we have that are available to us as resources to address these types of issues," he said. "A lot of these systems, take for example the monitoring system that we have in a ring around of each plant, those sensors are actually designed and constructed by our personnel."
The local nuclear plants generate more than 10 percent of the national total of electricity produced by nuclear power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nuclear plants have been in Illinois for about 50 years, with no dangerous incidents recorded, according to Mark Satorius, Regional Administrator for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"An incident is kind of a generic term, (but) how many actual events have we had that have necessitated evacuations? None." Satorius said.
Not everyone is convinced that nuclear plants can be safe. Linda Lewison, with the alternative energy advocacy group Nuclear Energy Information Service, said that instead of nuclear power plants, a focus needs to be put on more green energy.The Chicago-based nonprofit organization is committed toending nuclear power, according to its website.
Lawmakers asked who would pay for the additional alternative energy if there were no nuclear plants.
"If you bring the subsidies in the cost of nuclear energy and the cost of other fossil fuel services, renewable energy looks much better," Lewison said. "In Illinois and other places, private sectors are taking the lead (in solar panels and wind manufacturers)."
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